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Bring Back the Red Admiral!

What’s red, and rarer than a ruru?

It’s also an endemic species… unique to New Zealand.

The answer is our beautiful red admiral butterfly.

Most Aucklanders don’t remember the red admiral which was common in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau before the turn of the century.

“This species is only located in New Zealand and was once widespread,” said Jacqui Knight from the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT). “It seemed to disappear about the time the painted apple moth was discovered in Auckland when the city was sprayed with insecticide to eradicate the pest. Development and the loss of our wild spaces also means that now the beautiful butterfly is a very infrequent visitor.”

There are other red admirals in the world, but the NZ red admiral, in Te Reo ‘kahukura’ (meaning “red cloak”) is definitely the most beautiful.

“It’s as much a part of NZ as our kiwi and kauri, but it seems to have been gone and forgotten here over the past twenty years.”

The MBNZT’s Auckland members have plans to change that.

“We are campaigning this summer to increase awareness of this species and to encourage more people to plant nectar flowers and the butterfly’s host plant,” she said. “While few people are brave enough to plant Urtica ferox, the tree nettle or ongaonga, the host plant on which the species lays its eggs, they can still support the campaign by providing more nectar flowers in their gardens.”

“The butterflies, of course, are pollinators and both the adults and the caterpillars are a valuable ingredient in the diet of our native birds. If we are successful in bringing the red admirals back to Auckland, undoubtedly our birds will benefit too.”

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The campaign has been helped by a grant from Foundation North. Additional funds will mean that a small group of lepidopterists can visit neighbouring regions to bring a number of caterpillars or eggs back into the city to create the foundation population.

Brian Patrick, Biodiversity advisor to the MBNZT, is keen to support the initiative.

“In Canterbury and Otago, the butterfly is not so rare because of the large number of host plants growing in the wild,” he said. “But the South Island butterflies are not well adapted to Auckland’s climate. By collecting some from Northland or the Waikato to establish the population they will have a better chance of survival.”

Graeme Hill, Auckland writer and radio host, has been breeding admirals for many years in his city garden.

“People can help by controlling the predatory and parasitic wasps,” he said. “Especially the paper wasps and Vespula species, pests that have arrived in NZ and which are decimating our native butterflies.”

The MBNZT has the support of Kings Plant Barns in Auckland, who stock a good range of flowering plants to encourage butterflies into gardens.

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